Exoskeletons Could Improve Bowel Movements in Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Spinal cord injuries often interfere with a person's normal bowel movements.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The photo credit line may appear like thischudakov2/iStock

According to Cedars Sinai, a spinal cord injury may "damage the nerves" that help control the lower part of a person's colon, the part of the body responsible for sending solid waste out of the body. This condition, therefore, gets in the way of an individual's "normal ability to store and get rid of waste." As a result, it often leads to constipation and uncomfortable bowel accidents.

According to a survey featured on Medicine Net, more than a third of men with spinal cord injury revealed that bowel and bladder problems were one of their most prominent problems after their injury.

But help in on the way. The latest research now suggests that physical activity and upright posture may improve colon function and that robotic exoskeletons may help achieve that. The exoskeletons aid patients by allowing them to stand and perhaps even walk.

The promising outcomes of exoskeletons were based on a study that followed 49 patients who completed 36 sessions of exoskeleton-assisted walking. 

"We saw a notable reduction in bowel evacuation time, with 24% of participants reporting an improved experience," study co-author Gail Forrest, director of the Kessler Foundation's Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation in New Jersey, told Medicine Net

"Our goal is to improve the quality of life of those with chronic spinal cord injury, and these encouraging results will help inform future studies on the emerging field of mobility intervention," added Gorman, chief of the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute.

The researchers noted that it wasn't just standing that helped with bowel movements but walking as well. The Kessler Foundation's Tim and Caroline Reynolds Center for Spinal Stimulation notes on their website "that recovery from spinal cord injury, long considered impossible, is now on the horizon" thanks to the ability to study "robotic exoskeletons and stand training with stimulation of the spine for walking."

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